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East River Pool, even better the 2nd time around

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  • Harry Hooper
    Evening nflbirders,Around 7:30 yesterday (Sunday) morning, four kayak birders and I launched our boats at the East River Pool in the St. Marks National
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 23, 2007
      Evening nflbirders,Around 7:30 yesterday (Sunday) morning, four kayak birders and I launched our boats at the East River Pool in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the hopes of repeating the good birding that was enjoyed two Sundays before by several other paddlers and myself. The curtain rose and the show began not 200 feet from the ramp as we drifted to a quiet pause less than a 100 feet from 4 beautiful waders, a young reddish egret, a snowy egret, a great egret and an adult little blue heron. We enjoyed the clownish antics of the reddish egret as it rushed across the small flat in a drunkenly fashion in its futile attempts to snag its prey as the 3 other waders looked on curiously. These 3 waders, tiring of the running and flashing of wings of the reddish egret commenced in their own way attempts to find their breakfasts.We paddled deeper into the remoteness of this beautiful pool, taking a detour over to a narrow canal paralleling the dike that separates the East River Pool from the East River. In hopes of spotting at least one if not several least bitterns as we did a couple of Sundays prior, 2 of these smallest of waders briefly flew across our bows, not allowing several of the paddlers to gain views of this secretive little gem. Then there was movement in the cattails next to a willow. And slowly walking up a slanted cattail was the least bittern. As we positioned our boats to gain better views of this cryptically beautiful wader, the bittern paused in full view and with patience in the brilliant morning sun to allow all excellent views from less than 20 feet away. With the satisfaction of viewing such a willing subject, we continued our slow paddle down the canal till the vegetation turned us around. And passing that tilted cattail on the way back to the entrance, the little bittern was discovered to have not moved, as expecting us to return to enjoy its beauty a second time. Paddling across the pool toward the entrance to the East River, little blues, snowys, great egrets and another dancing reddish egret entertained us as they were stalking their morning prey. As we entered and paddled north on the East River, the larger gators (6 to 9 feet) were found to be in abundance. Several of these beautiful prehistoric reptiles lead us deeper into the realm of this little gem of a river. One paddler I'm sure lost a heartbeat or two as one good sized gator exploded in front of her kayak as it decided to quickly exit to safer digs, deep down in the muddy bottom of the river. Checking the small mud flat where two Sundays ago, we discovered very protective parents and their offspring, these 3 black-necked stilts were not to be found. Paddling back south out of the river and into the pool, a beautiful immature tricolored heron with its rich reddish brown head and neck allowed close viewing. And as we were enjoying the tricolored and an all white immature little blue heron with a nearby adult little blue, an adult black-necked stilt flew onto the flats and promptly marched to within 30 feet of one of the paddlers, complaining all the way. And with its warning calls, our scanning of the flats began. And there, in the distance, the youngster of the complaining parent, nonchalantly picking invertebrates from the mudflat. The second adult stilt was nearby and as we watched, this parent made several flyby attacks at a snowy egret, each time the snowy raising its crown as it ducked from the onslaught. These innocently appearing and delicate black and white shorebirds with their very long sexy bright pink legs proved to us that they will not tolerate intrusion into their territory, especially when their offspring is nearby. As we paddled deeper into this Pantanal of the St. Marks Refuge, ospreys and least terns entertained us with their flyovers and diving crashes into the calm waters in their attempts to gain their submerged prey. Several killdeer and semipalmated plovers provided great comparisons as they fed together on the flats. And while enjoying these little plovers, a large raccoon peaked over the tops of the tall grass eying us and the mysterious long floating objects that we were part of as we in turned spied on the inquisitive actions of this little masked bandit. And while enjoying these beautiful avian wonders, one of the paddlers yelled out that a swallow-tailed kite was right over our heads. This impressive small black and white raptor provided great views as it flew lazy circles over our heads before drifting to the far end of the pool. The morning was getting late as we began our return toward the landing. The performance on this watery stage of all these wonderful feathered creatures was coming to an end with the waning of the early morning hours. We decided to take a small detour toward a distant group of white waders with some dark forms mixed in.Then as we paddled toward our detoured destination, one of the paddlers arms pointed skyward. And there they were, two flocks of white with black trimmed wings, 747s, rising into the bright blue of the sky. These American white pelicans were enjoying a late morning fling on the rising thermals. And embedded within, 2 immature white ibis, enjoying the thermals along with these massive birds, a contrast in size and shape. How they avoided colliding, one only wonders. I just wish I was amongst them, enjoying the thermals with them. What a feeling that would be.Then 2 of these beautiful long billed and stocky white birds, folded their wings and dropped, and dropped rapidly toward the calm waters below. leveling out, and again circling. Others began to follow, then the whole, all started down in a broad wide circling pattern. And then the grand finale. With the assistance, I am sure of the air traffic control, avian division, these impressive pelicans began their approach and by ones and twos and then by fours and fives, all came in for their landings not 300 feet right in front of us all. Absolutely impressive. Eventually, several of these pelicans began bathing and as the curtain was dropped on this stage of avian wonder, we continued paddling toward our vehicles. Then an encore, the curtain rose around a marshy bend, 4 pink roseate spoonbills, feeding in the shallows. Life birds for several of the paddlers. And as we quietly enjoyed these birds from less than a 50 to 100 feet, several turned toward us, raised their bills to the sky, opened their bills and called. I for one have never heard the call of a roseate, with all that I have observed throughout the years. A wonderful experience. The curtain once again was lowered, but only slightly as we finally made it back to the landing. Two purple gallinules greeted us as we approached.Then as we were loading our boats onto our vehicles, the curtain rose one more time. Four adult black-necked stilts with 2 chicks were vocalizing right at the landing, beckoning our attention. Maybe not, but their calls did not go unnoticed. Another wonderful paddling and birding experience on a beautiful and somewhat mysterious East River Pool.Birds observed included:* American White Pelican - 50 55, appeared to be all immatures* Anhinga - 1 male* Least Bittern - 4* Great Blue Heron - 2* Great Egret - 6* Snowy Egret - 10+* Little Blue Heron - 8 (5 adults, 3 immature)* Tricolored Heron - 4 (3 adults, 1 immature)* Reddish Egret - 2 immatures* Green Heron - 4* White Ibis - 12 (9 adult, 3 1st year birds)* Glossy Ibis - 3* Roseate Spoonbill - 4* Wood Stork - 2 (soaring)* Osprey - 10+* Swallow-tailed Kite - 1* Purple Gallinule - 2* Common Moorhen - 8 (5 adults, 3 immatures)* Semipalmated Plover - 2* Killdeer - 2* Black-necked Stilt - 9 (6 adults, 3 immatures)* Greater Yellowlegs - 3* Lesser Yellowlegs - 1* Willet - 2* Peeps 20+ (Least, Western, Semipalmated ?) too distant to ID* Dowitcher, assumed short-billed - 20+* Laughing Gull - 6* Forster's Tern - 2* Least Tern - 3* Mourning Dove - 1 (flyover)* Fish Crow - 6* Barn Swallow - 10+* Northern Cardinal - 2 male/female* Red-winged Blackbird - 20+ male/female* Common Grackle - 4*Boat-tailed Grackle - 10+ male/femaleGood birding to all !Harry HooperTallahassee, Florida
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